Starting a bedtime routine for your baby
Establishing a bedtime routine for your baby is a great way to encourage good sleeping habits as they get older. Newborn babies are not expected to sleep through the night; in fact, frequent waking to feed is thought to prevent SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). Every baby is different and whilst some may start sleeping through the night at 3/4 months, others may not for a very long time after that – even beyond 1 year! During the early weeks you may just want to go with the flow, try not to worry too much about bedtimes as you will probably be more concerned about establishing breastfeeding
When to start a baby’s bedtime routine
Typically a good time to start a routine is when the baby is six to eight weeks old, however some parents like to start earlier. Your baby will enjoy the comfort of a routine and this will also help bring some structure to the family household.
An ideal time to start a bedtime routine for a young baby is between 6.30-7.30pm. Depending on the time of year, it may be light or dark but you can change the environment regardless to ensure your baby begins to learn that this is now wind down time. If your baby has had a nap shortly before this time, do not expect that they will fall asleep easily. If this is the case, just push bedtime back by an hour or so.
Prior to commencing the bedtime routine, try to play with your baby, sing songs, look at pictures/patterns, play peek- a-boo, build blocks etc to help them use some energy. If they are mobile, allow them to crawl around for a while to help wear them out!
Start by giving your baby a bath. Most babies love bathtime and the water will help to soothe and relax your baby ready for bed. Once bathtime is over, don’t be tempted to take your baby back into the living room to play. Your baby will most likely still be sleeping in your bedroom if they are under 6 months of age (as per recommended by the World Health Organisation) so take them straight into the bedroom to dry and get dressed into their babygro or pyjamas.
Babies love to be massaged! It is a great activity to do as part of the bedtime routine that will help your baby drift off to sleep easier. Read this article for more information on baby massage
Ensure your baby has fed before you settle them down to sleep. A hungry baby will not settle down well so make sure they have a full belly! Feeding is probably better to do after a bath/ massage to prevent vomiting/reflux.
By this point hopefully your baby will have wound down and be ready to go to sleep. If they are already drowsy, put them down in their crib. If not, perhaps a quiet story might help them to drift off. Your baby won’t understand any story that you tell but the sound of your voice will be calming to them and will provide them with security. This ritual has many other benefits – it introduces your baby to the world of language & vocabulary.
Quiet singing is another idea. Sing a popular song and let the process grow into a tradition in your family. By and by your baby will understand that when the song ends its time for him to get some shut-eye.
On the way to the bed, bid good night to inanimate objects in the house like favourite toys and other items. You can also include pets and other family members – this way your baby will get acquainted with the various things in the house and would begin to understand and identify things by their names.
Not all days will be the same
You will find that each day may be different depending on your baby’s level of tiredness, whether or not they are feeling well, other family commitments etc. So if you find that times vary a little or that baby goes to sleep earlier one night than the other or that occasionally you’re having to feed baby to sleep, do not worry! Babies are not robots and sometimes we have to compromise and follow their lead a little whilst trying to bring them a routine.